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Arthur Danto. Introduction to Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspcective. Recent Revolutions in Art (pp. 3-4). Breaking down social boundaries (e.g., gender & class)

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Arthur danto l.jpg

Arthur Danto

Introduction to Beyond the Brillo Box:

The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspcective


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Recent Revolutions in Art(pp. 3-4)

  • Breaking down social boundaries (e.g., gender & class)

  • Breaking down the boundary between High Art and popular culture (e.g., Pop Art, Warhol). “The transfiguration of the commonplace”

  • Making a new kind of museum (a more popular institution, with sales)

  • And (Danto’s real subject) a philosophical revolution.


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The philosophical revolution in Art:Art can be anything

  • Is this primarily a liberation movement, like Black Power, Women’s Liberation, and the other movements of the sixties? I.e., Art Lib: we can be and make whatever we want?

  • There might be some truth to this. Modernism in art kept overthrowing artistic traditions, just as modernism in general overthrew traditions. But this is not the revolution Danto has in mind.


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The philosophical revolution in art:You can’t tell art just by looking

  • The revolution Danto is talking about is that the difference between art and non-art is no longer visible (even though it is still there). P. 5

  • Modernism made the revolution possible, by erasing old standards (Warhol’s soup cans wouldn’t have been possible in the 19th century)


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Question: How could Brillo Box be art? Danto’s first thoughts (p. 5)

  • Previous standards must have been erased (by modernism)

  • There must be a theory that would let you count it as art (“an enfranchising theory”). In other words, people in the art world must at least be able to have a discussion, and be able to give reasons why such a thing should count as art, and some number of them must be persuaded by the reasons.


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How could Brillo Box be art? Danto’s later thoughts (p. 6)

  • Danto’s two theses:

  • Brillo Box (and things like it) are examples of art as philosophy.

  • When art becomes philosophy, art history is over.


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Defense of Danto’s two theses

  • Background: what Danto thinks Philosophy is:

  • The job of philosophy is “to draw the boundary lines which divide the universe into the most fundamental kinds of things that exist.”

  • A good philosophical method: find two things that you think are fundamentally different (like dreams and waking experience), yet they appear to be the same. Find out what makes them different.


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Defense of Danto’s first thesis(using his method)

  • Brillo Box is a perfect philosophical example. It looks just like a carton of Brillo boxes, but in fact it is an art work.

  • The difference is not the materials. It is wood, not cardboard like the real thing; but Brillo pads could just as well be shipped in wood containers.

  • The difference must be conceptual, not visible. The work raises a philosophical question about the difference between art and non-art.


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Defense of Thesis Two: “Art comes to an end and becomes philosophy”

  • Art has “a master narrative” (Does it?)

  • Vasari thought art’s master narrative was about representational accuracy. Once you achieve Renaissance mastery, the quest is over; now you just use the tools you’ve created.

  • Hegel (according to Danto) thought the narrative was a philosophical one. “Art gives rise to the question of its true identity, and when that happens, it has become (the occasion of) philosophy.”


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Art becomes philosophy philosophy”

  • “Art was raising from within itself the question of its being.”

  • Examples please?

  • “Until the form of the question came from within art, philosophy was powerless to raise it; and once it was raised, art was powerless to resolve it. That point was reached when art and reality were indiscernible.”


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The End of Art? philosophy”

  • According to Danto, a narrative has ended. People still make art, and no doubt always will. But art is no longer “carrying forward the history of discovery and making new breakthroughs” (like Calder making sculptures that moved). These are conceptual and not just technological breakthroughs

  • In the post-historical period, anything goes. You can make any kind of art you want. During modernism, that was not true.


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Danto: further thoughts philosophy”

  • Danto’s definition of art: A work of art is an artifact that is about something, and that embodies its meaning.

  • Danto’s idea of three Ages of Art:

    • The Age of Representation: Art is to represent and be beautiful

    • The Age of Manifestos (Modernism): Art tries to discover what it is.

    • The Post-Historical Age: Art reaches the end of its philosophical investigation and is liberated.


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Questions about Danto philosophy”

  • Is Danto right that something has ended, and that we are now in a new, pluralistic period in art?

  • Is Danto right about what has ended?

  • Hegel thought art was an attempt to capture something transcendent in physical form. What do you think Danto would say about this?


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